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Maybe It's Tonight

What does it mean to climb, night after night, into the flimsy, freezing tube that will be your prison for the next six hours? How does it feel to return and look around for missing friends? How is it possible for the mind to survive when the body's survival for the required thirty operations is a statistical impossibility?

Our opinions concerning the bomber crews of the Second World War are coloured and tainted by the lingering question whether the allies' carpet bombing of German cities and towns was justified. It's a valid question, and one to which I don't pretend to have an answer. But whatever the wisdom or justice of the missions, it's important that we appreciate the heroism and sacrifice of the young men who flew them.

Barely two decades after carnage of the Great War, we humans once again demonstrated our inability to learn. By writing about war I have no wish to glorify conflict, nor do I claim the conceit of judgement. Those who returned from those long missions rarely speak about their memories. Yet, more than seventy years ago, they were barely out of their teens: full of the life and the madness of youth. I hope to bring them to life as they were then.

As for The Larks, wars are fought by ordinary people.

The real Q-Queenie stalked by a Bf110

Fact Meets Fiction

There's inevitably an element of friction when fact meets fiction. The rhyme is unintended, but it's not a bad axiom. I wanted to stay as close to fact as possible, and so I chose a real RAF station. RAF Waltham, near Grimsby, provides the fulcrum for much of the action. In 1942 it was home to 142 Squadron, who were flying Wellingtons. But, in the tradition of fiction everywhere, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental. Well, almost - a certain noted smoker of cigars makes a cameo appearance and accidentally gives us the title for the book.

The story pivots on three anchors:

The Real Q for Queen

Using a real location carries pitfalls. What I'm writing never happened. At every paragraph I invite some anoraksic historian to tell me that runway 13 at Waltham was closed throughout March 1942. That's because this isn't real life.

My aircrew's usual mount is Q for Queen, known affectionately as "Queenie". She's a Mark IV Wellington, a relatively rare variant that used American Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp engines rather than the Bristol Hercules that powered most variants from the Mk III onwards. As it's Queenie's nose art that gives the name of the book (it's added by the Wireless Operator following an impromptu speech by Churchill), I wanted the cover to feature an image of the aircraft. To avoid the wrath of the said anoraksic historian, that meant I needed to check the squadron markings for 142 Squadron. But I also needed a registration to avoid the inevitable, "I think you'll find that L1490 was actually a Bristol Blenheim of 211 Squadron."

I was very fortunate to come across the Midland Aircraft Recovery Group, who are actually restoring a Wellington IV of 142 Squadron. Their fascinating website yielded the following facts:

On the 25/6 June 1942, Wellington IV Z1287 QT-Q failed to return from Duisberg; presumed lost in the North Sea: the pilot's body was later washed ashore and he is buried in Sweden, while the rest of the crew are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. Z1287 was the only Wellington missing at sea on this night and, as there was only one night fighter claim over the sea, for a Wellington, it seems that Ofw Rolf Bussmann of 9./NJG 2 probably shot down Z1287 west of Bergen-ann-Zee at 03.26 hours. (Wellington X3975 of 150 Sqn had been plotted further north, off Den Haag before ditching due to engine failure.)

A little more digging has revealed the names of the crew. Only the pilot was found when his body was washed ashore on the Baltic coast of Sweden.

Pilot Officer N G Sprake (Pilot)
Buried in Kviberg Cemetery in Sweden

Pilot Officer B N Wade
Commemorated on the Runymede Memorial

Sergeant P Kedgley
Commemorated on the Runymede Memorial

Sergeant R A Mansell
Commemorated on the Runymede Memorial

Sergeant D W Moss
Commemorated on the Runymede Memorial

I hope my imaginary crew do them justice.


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